Pipeline Constraints

Monday, 01/07/2019

It’s so ironic. New England is only a stone’s throw from the burgeoning Marcellus natural gas production area, but pipeline constraints during high-demand periods in the wintertime leave power generators in the six-state region gasping for more gas. Now, with only minimal expansions to New England’s gas pipeline network on the horizon, the region is doubling down on a long-term plan to rely on a combination of gas liquefaction, LNG storage, LNG imports and gas-to-oil fuel switching at dual-fuel power plants to help keep the heat and lights on through those inevitable cold snaps. Today, we discuss recent developments on the gas-supply front in “Patriots Nation.”

Tuesday, 06/26/2018

The weeks-long shutdown at Syncrude Canada’s oil sands production facility in northeastern Alberta will alleviate pipeline takeaway constraints that have significantly widened the price spread between Western Canadian Select (WCS) and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil. But when Syncrude returns later this summer, there’s every reason to believe that the constraints will too, as will the need for significantly more crude-by-rail shipments. Railed volumes out of Western Canada have been increasing in recent months, but not by enough to avert WCS-WTI differential blowouts to $25 and even $30/bbl. The catch is that most of the rail-terminal capacity built a few years ago is mothballed, and that railroads are reluctant to dedicate more locomotives and personnel unless shippers make one-, two- or even three-year commitments to take-or-pay for that logistical support. Today, we consider the ongoing challenges Western Canadian producers face in moving their crude to market.

Wednesday, 02/07/2018

Producers in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) are in a bind. Crude oil output in the WCSB has risen by more than 50% over the past seven years to about 4 MMb/d and is expected to increase to 5 MMb/d by the mid-2020s. But there has been only a modest expansion of refinery capacity within the region and pipeline capacity out of the WCSB, and lately takeaway constraints have had a devastating effect on the price relationship between benchmark Western Canadian Select (WCS) and West Texas Intermediate (WTI). What’s ahead for WCSB producers and WCS prices? Today, we continue our series on Western Canadian crude and bitumen markets, this time focusing on WCSB refinery capacity and existing pipelines out of the region.

Monday, 01/22/2018

The recent collapse in the price of Western Canadian Select (WCS) versus West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and the 12-day shutdown of the Keystone Pipeline in November 2017 put the spotlight on a major issue: Alberta production is rising, pipeline takeaway capacity out of the province has not kept pace, and pipes are running so full that some owners have been forced to apportion access to them. Storage and crude-by-rail shipments have served as a cushion of sorts, absorbing shocks like the Keystone outage and the apportionments, but with more production gains expected in 2018-19, that cushion seems uncomfortably thin and unforgiving. With all this going on, we decided that it’s time for a deep-dive look at Western Canadian production, takeaway options and WCS prices — the whole kit and caboodle. Today, we begin a new series on Canadian crude and bitumen production, the infrastructure in place (and being planned) to deal with it, and the effects of takeaway constraints on pricing.

Thursday, 11/16/2017

Two months ago, U.S. crude oil exports skyrocketed, and they have averaged 1.6 MMb/d since mid-September, driven by a Brent-WTI differential above $6/bbl — higher than it has been in over two years. At one point, the steep differential and surging exports were blamed on Hurricane Harvey, then on renewed OPEC discipline and a political risk premium associated with a shakeup in the Saudi hierarchy. But the reality is that these factors are only small pieces of the equation, with pipeline transportation bottlenecks from Cushing and the Permian down to the Gulf Coast being much more important factors in the widening Brent-WTI price spread. Today, we begin a blog series examining how these pipeline capacity constraints triggered the expanded price differential, and how the differential then enabled high crude oil export volumes.

Wednesday, 09/13/2017

Natural gas liquids production in the Permian Basin has doubled in the past four years, and may well double again by 2022. That rapid growth — driven by the pursuit of Permian crude oil and the resulting production of large volumes of NGL-rich associated gas — threatens to overwhelm the region’s existing gas processing and NGL-pipeline infrastructure. This is a big deal, because if there’s not enough gas processing and NGL takeaway capacity out of the Permian, exploration and production companies (E&Ps) in the U.S.’s hottest shale play would be forced to slow the pace of their development. Today we discuss highlights from our new Drill Down Report on Permian NGL production growth and the need for more NGL-related infrastructure.

Wednesday, 06/28/2017

New production expected online in December 2017 from the Suncor Fort Hills project in the oil sands region of northern Alberta could increase pipeline congestion from western Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast market where the oil is in demand. That’s because existing capacity across the Canadian border is running close to full and the only possible capacity addition across before 2019 is Enbridge’s 300-Mb/d Alberta Clipper expansion at the border — assuming it gets a long-sought U.S. Presidential Permit later this year. As a result of this continuing near-term pipeline squeeze, producers are again turning to rail transport to bypass pipeline congestion and ensure their crude gets to market. On June 2 (2017), USD Group announced a new route option for Canadian producers following its purchase of a rail terminal in Stroud, OK, that is connected by pipeline to the Midwest crude trading and storage hub at Cushing, OK; USD will offer direct rail service from its Hardisty, AB, terminal to Cushing. Today we review the economics of this rail transport route for oil sands producers. (This blog is based on a recent note published by Morningstar Commodities and Energy Research.)

Wednesday, 11/02/2016

Natural gas utilities and power generators in southern New England will have access to additional gas supplies this winter as Spectra Energy brings its 342-MMcf/d Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) project into service. But Kinder Morgan’s planned 72-MMcf/d Connecticut Expansion has been set back a year (to November 2017) due to permitting delays and, more important, a multi-state effort to enable electric distribution utilities (EDUs) to contract for gas pipeline capacity for generators appears to have died, and with it prospects for at least one major project. Is New England destined to remain gas-supply constrained for years to come?  Today we consider recent developments regarding gas supply in the northeastern corner of the U.S., and what they may mean for Marcellus/Utica producers.

Thursday, 04/10/2014

Last week (ending April 4) the summer 2014 natural gas storage injection season began with a whimper by adding 4 Bcf to empty tanks pummeled by the Polar Vortex. That was a slower than expected start to the Herculean task of replenishing gas stocks before next winter. A lot of factors will have to fall into place for that to happen. A too-hot summer could pull gas away from injection and into demand for power burn. Today we continue our analysis of regional power burn prospects with a look at New England demand this year.